Alexis Premkumar, SJ, in conversation with Joe Antony, SJ, on his 8 months and 20 days experience with Talibans!
16 March 2015

Alexis Premkumar, SJ, after his release with his family in Delhi (John Mezsia/ Jesuit Refugee Service)
They treated me well. They allowed me to pray in the morning. I went along with them to fetch water. I even prayed that I should be allowed to die.

India, 16 March 2014 - What exactly did the Prime Minister say?

First he said ‘Vanakkam’ (greetings) in Tamil. Then he said, “You will be back home soon. Your people will be very happy to see you.” I told him, “Thank you, Sir, for saving my life.” And he said, “It is God who has saved you.”

What happened on 2 June ’14 when you were kidnapped?

Early that morning I left our residence at Herat city and went to a village and then to the Director of Schools whose office was nearby and then around 12.30 pm I reached the JRS school at Sohadat, about 34 kms away from Herat city. Within 3 or 4 minutes this group of armed men barged in, shooting to frighten the teachers who were with me. They told them not to interfere. Then they took me and pushed me inside their car and took me to a faraway place.

How did they treat you?

They treated me well. They allowed me to pray in the morning. I went along with them to fetch water. For breakfast they gave me 3 cups of tea and a piece of naan (wheat bread). For lunch and supper they gave me rice or naan. Occasionally they gave me meat. Three armed men were with me all the time. While one guarded me, the other two did other works like cooking and washing. They kept me chained.

How did you cope mentally?

In the first few weeks I thought even Jesus did not have to suffer this much. That must have been spiritual arrogance. Soon I realized that no one could suffer as much as He did. I tried to unite my sufferings with His. I offered them for people who suffer all over the world in so many ways. I prayed all the time. I must have made three long retreats (laughs). I celebrated the Eucharist mentally. I prayed a lot to the Blessed Mother. Strangely I saw my own mother, whom I loved much and who died in 2013, often standing with Our Lady. To celebrate the Eucharist and to pray Vatican Radio was a big help.

Thank God! Is there anything you did not to lose hope, not to lose your faith and trust in God’s providence?

Of course, there were moments when I felt depressed. I even prayed that I should be allowed to die. But these were rare moments. My faith kept me going. I discovered that through prayer you could address not merely God, but also others. So I sent prayer vibrations to our Prime Minister, to our External Affairs Minister, to the members of my family. These must have obviously worked.

Did you worry about your family?

Yes, a lot. Especially about my father. Our family was always a happy family. We didn’t have many sufferings or setbacks. The first major upset was my mother’s death in 2013. I thought my father must have been affected a lot by it. And then in the very next year to hear that his son has been kidnapped must have been too much for him. But I sent him and all in my family my prayer vibrations. They must have given them hope.

Given the situation Afghanistan do you think the JRS work there should continue?

Surely. Because the Afghan people need us. They need education to prosper in life. But I don’t want anyone to be kidnapped. Now I know what it means. So all our people and all aid workers in Afghanistan should live and work with extreme caution and care.

How do the people of Afghanistan look at India and the Indian people?

They love us. They love India. They are fond of Hindi films. At the Kandahar airport when a soldier learnt I was an Indian he hugged me spontaneously.

Interview courtesy: Jivan Magazine, March 2015

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